July 2, 2024

The Gift of Community

EllaMay’s 80th birthday (photo by Vic Mansfield)

Walking toward our favorite Chinese restaurant in Ithaca, NY in the late 1960s, we noticed a huge Buddha statue in a dusty storefront.  The sign on the door said “American Brahmin Bookstore.” Someone was unpacking books inside, so with a name like that, we were curious.

Soon Vic and I were hanging out at the new bookstore with a growing group of friends. In the evening, the place was thick with cigarette smoke and, in the back, there were piles of mismatched cushions for meditation. Before evening philosophy classes, we meditated while country music from the diner next door seeped through the walls.

Birthday party for EllaMay in the 1970s.

Many students and a few local people were drawn by the man who taught Eastern and Western philosophy, Jungian psychology, and meditation. When the store first opened, the shelves were mostly stocked with his personal library and he might hand someone a book and encourage them to take it for free.

After teaching a class, Anthony Damiani worked a night shift as a toll collector on the NY Thruway to support his wife and six sons. Anthony’s dark hair was slicked back, his goatee was neatly trimmed, and his uniform was pressed. His son Steve ran the store during the day and took care of the finances along with doing astrology charts for eager students.

Anthony Damiani in the bookstore, 1969

I’m still close to many people I met in the bookstore more than 50 years ago. The community held me together through life’s challenges and I did the same for others. By now, some have died and some moved away.

We bonded as we meditated and studied together while working on new buildings overlooking Seneca Lake on land donated by Anthony and his wife EllaMay. Women cooked together for big gatherings and took care of each other’s kids along with working on the buildings. In time, we created two residences for students, one larger building for meditation and classes, and a beautiful library dedicated by the Dalai Lama on his first trip to the United States in 1979.

EllaMay’s last birthday gathering (photo by Vic Mansfield)

We were never formally part of a religion. Anthony believed we should be open to the wisdom of all spiritual traditions. EllaMay provided sweetness and friendship by opening their home to everyone for Sunday dinners. In time, EllaMay became a teacher, too.

Classes still meet at the main building and they’re offered on Zoom. I attend a women’s mythology class that began meeting in 1990. It’s a smaller group now, but we keep going, nourishing our feminine mythological traditions and our deep connections.

Too often now, we gather in person for memorial services for dear friends. It’s unclear how the place will keep going as the original members depart and fewer young participants arrive. Many of us are in our 70s or close to 80 and still keep the community going and take care of each other.

entryway designed by Andrew Holmes

These are my soul siblings, the friends who helped me learn what matters the most in life.


Do you have a long-lasting community in your life–family or a community of interest? I hope you do or you’re working to create one. We humans need each other. For another post about my community see Zapped by the Dalai Lama. Or Life is Sweeter When We Keep Old Friendships Strong.

(My website is still giving me trouble and I have trouble searching for anything. I hope it isn’t a problem for you. My web server promises to work on it this week.)


  1. July 6, 2024 at 11:29 am

    Lin Gregory


    What a wonderful post Elaine – to have a long standing community around you is very precious, especially in these times. To have a picture of you all is a bonus! Here our neighbours have slowly bonded over the years to create a small network to help others in the street if needed, and for some time I was an active part of a photographic community in our local town. But, as with so much in life, people and places change and now the search for a group of likeminded souls with shared beliefs and interests as I get older goes on. As an introvert, a small group would suit me down to the ground – perhaps Deborah and I will start the group we’re looking for ourselves! Sending new moon blessings to you.

    1. July 6, 2024 at 4:09 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Lin, we were fortunate to meet each other and a teacher when we were so young. Because our teacher Anthony died in 1984, I had time to find my individual path. There was lots of focus on meditation, Jungian psychology, and Greek and Eastern Philosophy. I used to love classes, but hearing loss made me a necessary introvert, so I miss the excellent seminars that the group still organizes. I hang on to my women’s mythology class that meets every other week on Zoom. Our class is eight to ten and leadership is shared. If you and Deborah found just a few others to join you, you might create nourishing connections. Sending you blessings at this time of political chaos. Have a wonderful bike ride.

  2. July 3, 2024 at 3:41 pm

    Marian Beaman


    Your post resonated with the joy of community over the years. Finding kindred spirits is somewhat tricky, but it seems you and Vic found this special bookstore serendipitously. Amid the solitude of writing, I find it refreshing to associate with several groups, tribes I call them. I enjoy my tribe of colleagues from the college, church friends, writing group friends, and my Pilates people. And like you, I find it sad that some have died and some moved away. But that’s life, and it’s best to accept it. Right? Thank you, Elaine. 😀

    1. July 4, 2024 at 12:42 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      We were lucky. I’m still connected to my community, but I can’t take part in much because of hearing loss. I still attend a women’s mythology class which I find meaningful and I have a few consistent texting relationships. Reading is much easier for me than hearing. If I didn’t have to drive so far, I’d attend classes for balance, but I know what to do and can spend that drive time doing the exercises I once taught. I also take early morning and late afternoon walks with Disco. Then she sleeps the rest of the day which is her way of handling heat. Yes, I agree about losing friends to death or moves. That’s life and sometimes it hurts! I began learning that reality in earnest when Vic died. I hope you have a wonderful day, Marian.

      1. July 6, 2024 at 2:59 pm

        Marian Beaman


        I see your website is up and running again: Yay! I saved my comment to re-post in case it was lost. I know all about website woes! ((( )))

        1. July 6, 2024 at 4:13 pm

          Elaine Mansfield


          My site is up, Marian, but the issue still isn’t completely resolved. The issues are too high tech for me to understand, so I just have to sit back and be patient. My website works, but it’s in bad need of some editing and formating–but we’re leaving formating and other changes until the other issue is resolved. I just read your post and know you understand.

  3. July 3, 2024 at 10:47 am

    Aladin Fazel


    It is such a heartfelt and heart-touching memory, dear Elaine. I have had a big family, but not in such a connection. Not to forget that I am very introverted and would rather run away from any gathering of people! However, your memories are from the seventies, and that was a great time for communities. Love and blessing.

    1. July 3, 2024 at 11:25 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Vic was an introvert, but he was willing to develop his extroverted side to learn from Anthony. (We did lots of meditation with Anthony.) After Anthony’s death in 1984, Vic was less involved with the community and more involved with bringing the ideas into the world. Neither of us had biological family members in this group, but this was spiritual family. This week there’s been a lot of information back and forth about the Dalai Lama’s knee surgery and the death of a Tibetan scholar and translator who visited our study center with the Dalai Lama. These are the people who show up with a meal when someone is sick. Yes, the ’70s were a great time for community and remnants remain. I like remembering those nurturing times. Blessings to you, Aladin.

  4. July 3, 2024 at 8:33 am

    Elaine Mansfield


    Thanks for your comment, Deborah. (I’m sorry the response comes before your comment.) Vic set up the remote and ran to get in the photo, so he’s at the bottom right in a pale yellow shirt. I’m a few rows behind him in turquoise. And EllaMay is in the middle of this community seated in a chair with a big sun hat. It feels like another lifetime when so many of us gathered together to celebrate EllaMay, and to host many spiritual teachers, including the Dalai Lama. It was an exciting time. My life is quiet now, partly because of deafness and because I’ve been ill–and it’s a natural part of becoming a crone. I don’t know why I’m having website issues, but it will get worked out by my local server or my son when he visits in late July. Love and deep summer relaxation to you and Lin.

  5. July 3, 2024 at 6:08 am



    I love receiving your newsletters. Whatever subject it is that you write puts me more in touch with what it means to be human. Thank you for sharing your appreciations of both joys and sorrows of your life’s relationships – human and more than human ones. .

    1. July 3, 2024 at 8:57 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Patricia. I write about my life and memories and I’m glad you find it meaningful. This community nurtured me for most of my life but there’s been a big change in my world because of hearing loss–and the pandemic which means there are few large classes meeting in person. When our teacher Anthony was alive, we had trouble fitting everyone in the meditation room, but life keeps changing. Now I feel the last stages of life discussed in the Hindu tradition–the solitary forest dweller and the renunciate. Blessings to you.

  6. July 2, 2024 at 10:39 am

    Deborah Gregory


    Dear Elaine, this is such a joyful post, thank you for sharing your words and wisdom! I really enjoyed all the photos too and had to do a bit of squinting to see you and Vic. Your reminiscing has reminded me of the many wonderful groups, classes and retreats I’ve taken, belonged to, joined or attended throughout my life. Interestingly, the group I miss most today is my Jungian Dream Group which only ran for nine years (I can’t imagine the richness and depth of connection you must feel having attended a local group for over fifty years, wow!), and is possibly the one group I’m thinking that I may have to recreate myself next year, as I just can’t find a group to attend in person (zoom groups don’t work for me) locally, or a group that I would have to travel hours to reach. Hopefully with Lin retiring next year and me slowing down too, autumn 2025 may be a good time to start something new for both of us. I hope so! Love and light, Deborah.

    PS. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having website problems. Tsk! If it helps, here in the UK we haven’t encountered any problems. Hope you get them fixed soon.

    1. July 3, 2024 at 8:41 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Dear Deborah, And wouldn’t you know it, my reply to your comment ended up before your comment. I don’t know how that happened, but I’m tired of trying to fix it. Thanks for patience with me. I think it’s time to go outside and water the garden. Sending you love across the oceans and the computer cloud.

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